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The Second Twenty Five Years{1}
by Knut Gjerset and Ludvig Hektoen (Volume 17: Page 149)

It is pleasant to see ideas turn into manuscripts, manuscripts into printers' proofs, and proofs into published books, with title pages and binding and nicely stamped "backbones." The job is finished, ready for its circle of readers (if any) and the not always tender mercies of the reviewer, who, one devoutly hopes, will get beyond the blurb, preface, and table of contents.

The editor rejoices when his book comes out-and the travail of giving birth to it is soon forgotten: the hours of work, the hunt for misprints which lurk in places that the eye glides over, the long correspondence, the task of revision, the sparring with strong-willed authors, the dickering with printers, the closing of contracts, the designing of title pages and jackets, the measurement of pages, the matching of foot note numbers, the conferences with typographers, the writing of blurbs. These and other little editorial episodes fade from one's mind-until one opens the newly published book and promptly discovers a misprint that is forever beyond the power of correction. But even a leering misprint - the unhappy aftereffect of a disease known as "proofreader's myopia"- cannot dispel a certain glow of satisfaction. It is pleasant to hold the book in one's hands - pleasanter still to have a row of more than thirty books, as in the Norwegian-American Historical Association - books that one trusts will stand up in quality of content as impressively as they stand up on the bookshelf.

The end result of the editor's job is, of course, book production. His business is to get books written, edited, and [150] published, and he knows that these things do not happen by pushing a button or invoking some magic charm. They are planned for and worked for. The task of an editor is one of imagination and sweat, ideas and drudgery, dreams and work, running errands, inspiration, "running heads," chapter titles, and indexes.

It is remarkable, in a review of the work of this Association for twenty-five years, to realize how much of our publication was planned in advance. Relatively little has fallen like ripe fruit into our hands, finished except for printing and binding, though we have had some good luck. Most of our production has come from stimulation and encouragement, suggestions of things worth doing, earnest urging, conferences, letters, sometimes the promise of specific assistance of one kind or another. Many things have been started that were never finished. Some things have been finished that could not be published. Many things we dreamed of have not been done because we lacked energy or time or means or success in our hunt for others to do them or to join us in doing them. We have had profit and loss. But we have never failed to profit by looking critically at work yet to be done, by studying, not our achievements, but our failures and blind spots, by scolding ourselves about what we have not succeeded in doing.

If I could draw any lesson from such measure of success as we may have had in this quarter century, it is that we have accompanied review with challenge, appraisal of things done with study of things to be done. I have amused myself recently by looking over an appalling number of reports, annual and triennial, that I wrote in the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's to the Association and its Executive Board. I claim no great insight or wisdom for these reports, but I can truthfully say that I have never given a report to this Association that has not presented a program for the future, that has not in some sense challenged the Association. One of these, published in [151] 1942, was called Planning for the Future. Four years earlier Dr. Bjork and I prepared an extensive document entitled A Review and a Challenge.

Often we have presented programs of publication that ran far beyond the finances of the Association, but in all these years the Executive Board has never failed to give generous support in any considered plan we have put before it. I re member an occasion when my estimates of cost for a single year ahead ran thirty-five hundred dollars beyond what our treasury could support as a publication budget. While I was speaking, one member of the Board wrote a check for twenty-five hundred dollars, and before the meeting was over the amount subscribed had risen to thirty-five hundred. We put our program through to completion. The officers and the Board for twenty-five years have given this Association a service of such devotion, work, single-minded purpose, and generosity that it would be difficult indeed to find a parallel. If I took delight in challenging the Board, let me say that nothing ever looked impossible to the Board. The more ambitious our plans, the more pleased the Board. It is not too difficult to be an editor if one has officers and an executive board of that character.

Let me also say something about the writers and scholars who have contributed to our publications. They have matched with the gifts of their minds the financial gifts that have done so much to make our program possible. Author after author in the whole range of our work has turned over to me for publication his or her manuscript without payment for the months and often years of patient work that have gone into it. We have built up our publications through voluntary contributions by the writers and scholars who have taken an interest in this field and in this Association. Occasionally, where a scholar has had to cut loose from his job and salary in order to do a piece of work that seemed important, we have placed him upon a fellowship or given him [152] some aid in meeting expenses, but by and large the program has been erected on the basis of noncompensated voluntary service. Such service, too, has been given by the members of the Board of Editors through a quarter of a century. Who can measure the value of the time and effort the scholars have freely given to make our publications rich in content and meaning?

Both the Executive Board and the Board of Editors from the beginning, and consistently through the years, have taken a stand for objective and careful scholarship, for work of lasting value, and for freedom to enter upon and deal honestly and freely with any and all subjects that merit historical investigation.

Our work has been done without fanfare. Festivals have had almost no place in our program. But I have welcomed this celebration for two reasons. One is that I see in it genuine potentialities for widening the base of our work. A better appreciation of things done will generate wider and more extensive support. In the past we have had to depend too much upon a very small group of contributors. Occasionally verbal expressions of interest have not been implemented with positive contributions, and we have had a struggle on our hands to carry out plans that seemed worth while. I offer the hope that organizations and individuals, not hitherto active in this enterprise, will now step in and give financial and other support to help us to move forward as we face the second twenty-five years. Our program of this year, which has produced three books, is making heavy inroads upon our funds, and we face the prospect of having to slow down our productive work. The circle of friends who have given us our greatest support through the years has unhappily narrowed. We need new sources of strength for the programs we want to carry forward. And this leads me to my second reason for welcoming this celebration. Granting that we have met some challenges in the past, granting that we have made a few [153] contributions to the literature and source materials of American history, we face greater tasks than we have as yet accomplished. Today's sessions should help us to enlist more support and thus make a more effective start on our second twenty-five years.

The assignment I have chosen for myself today, therefore, is to look ahead, not backward, to put before you a picture of some of the things we have yet to do, and to ask support in the patient, long-continuing, expensive job of carrying forward an enlarged - not a reduced - program of publication.

Immediately on our horizon of publication is a pioneer diary, the "Bache Diary," translated and edited by Professors Clausen and Elviken, and unfortunately long delayed in publication. It is now nearly ready and will be put in a position of first priority for the future. It will be called "A Chronicle of Old Muskego."

In the second place, we look forward to another great work from Dr. Kenneth Bjork - the saga of the Norwegians on the Pacific coast, from California to Alaska. The research has been carried forward by Dr. Bjork for some years, and the work itself is beginning to take shape in the light of his extensive travels and studies. Whether it will result in one or more volumes, I do not know, but I am certain that it will be carried through to completion and will be published in the next two to four years - certain, also, that it will be a significant addition to our publications. Some idea of its flavor may be had by reading volume 16 of Studies and Records, which is devoted to the Pacific coast and Alaska and was brought together by Dr. Bjork.

We shall continue the series of Studies and Records, started in 1926, and now constituting sixteen published volumes. We have in hand a variety of contributions for a new volume, scheduled to appear in 1952. We also have the book manuscript of a research study by Dr. Arlow Andersen dealing [154] with Norwegian-American political forces and tendencies in the pioneer era.

Let me now list some things that in my judgment we need to do in the years ahead. This will also serve to point out some gaps in the shelf representing the work of our first quarter of a century.

We need a comprehensive and definitive study of the Norwegian language in America, an enterprise in which, happily, Professor Einar Haugen is engaged. I have no doubt that, when finished, it will be a basic study of high importance.

We need works, comparable to Dr. Bjork's present study of the Pacific coast, dealing with other areas - with both our own South and East and with the prairie provinces of Canada.

We need a comprehensive work both of detail and of interpretation dealing with Norwegian-American college education - a story as absorbing as it is important - and a series of a half dozen or more volumes on particular colleges.

We need a study of the second generation, a socio-historical inquiry into intermarriage and adjustment, just as we need an analytical study of a representative Norwegian-American settlement from pioneer times to the present.

The lag movement should be made the subject of a careful history and interpretation in all its range.

It is time to bring together in a unified study the story of Norwegian-American organizational life, and a separate volume is invited by the subject of music and the fine arts among the Norwegian Americans. Similarly we should have the history of Norwegian-American sport, and a volume or two treating the still relatively unexplored subject of the Norwegians in American cities.

On the literary side we should ultimately have a careful study in broad range, perhaps a series of studies, of the predecessors of Rølvaag. And the history of the Norwegian American newspaper press, notwithstanding many good [155] contributions in that field, still needs full-size book treatment by a competent historian of the press.

We have done relatively little in the biographical field, and I am understating the need when I suggest no fewer than twenty biographies of representative figures in the wide range of letters, scholarship, industry, and the professions. We obviously need to do much more than we have done with the fascinating America letters, some of which are brought out in the modest new volume entitled Frontier Mother. I am on the safe side here if I suggest a half dozen volumes, and it is similarly conservative to call for a dozen volumes of pioneer diaries and reminiscent accounts, the flavor, interest, and value of which are suggested not only by Aagot Raaen's newly published Grass of the Earth, but also by Birger Osland's A Long Pull from Stavanger and Laurence M. Larson's The Log Book of a Young Immigrant.

The history of American and Norwegian-American influences upon Norway, part of the larger field in which Dr. Franklin D. Scott has recently written a splendid book and which Professor Koht has also exploited in a work of still greater range, invites further intensive study.

We need a volume on Norwegian-American folklore and the allied field of folk arts.

My own lay excursions into the field of church history have convinced me of the need of much more work in that field. We should look forward to some five volumes of church history, a difficult kind of history to write objectively but one in which we urgently need objective work. These volumes should explore the areas of any and all denominations which have figured in the church story, and alongside such volumes we should have others dealing with men and forces outside the church sphere or in outspoken opposition to the church, including the gifted and creative Marcus Thrane, to whose career our publications have already given attention.

As a believer in what I have called "grass-roots history," I [156] personally shall not be content until we have a good book on the Norwegian farmer in America (and his wife and family).

We have done very little on the later period of Norwegian immigration, a subject that invites further study, among others by myself, for I should like to add a third volume to my Norwegian Migration to America but have thus far failed to find enough spare time to undertake this little assignment. Fortunately Ingrid Semmingsen in Norway has tackled this period, and her second volume will unquestionably fill out the story in scholarly and interesting fashion.

Similarly we need further investigations in the field of politics, emphasizing not only leadership but also the role of the rank and file.

If to all this I add a dozen or fifteen volumes of bibliographies, translations of narratives of travel and description, and source materials of various kinds; then throw in twenty volumes of additional Studies and Records for smaller pieces, articles, and documents; and reserve a few places for books of broad sweep and interpretation, you will be ready, I think, to admit that this Association still has much to do. And I have undoubtedly left out many equally important and interesting subjects that will leap to the minds of others as they examine the potentialities of the field as a whole. The present review is intended to be merely tentative and suggestive.

We cannot rush into such a wide-ranging program like a strong football team pounding down a field for a touchdown. We must tackle our job piece by piece, always looking forward, always considering challenges beyond a single piece of work or a single year, or indeed even two or three years. On going through my reports I find that the Board of Editors called for a book on the engineers twenty years before Dr. Bjork's splendid Saga in Steel and Concrete was published. Some of us were moving vigorously toward it in the 1930's. It was launched as an undertaking by Dr. Bjork eight years before the work was published, and into its preparation the [157] author put an immense amount of energy and time in that period of nearly a decade. I could give you example after example of books initiated a decade or more before they were published and on which authors worked for long years. And I could enlarge the boundaries of the tasks we face by emphasizing, as I have often done in the past, the importance of adding constantly to the materials of history by collecting and preserving sources. That, in turn, is closely related to the necessary and very big job of ascertaining where materials now are, collected and uncollected.

If the tasks ahead seem many and great as one lists them in solemn succession, I remind you that when we began our work in 1925, the job we undertook seemed even bigger than the one we now face. We had nothing-that is, nothing but an idea, a little circle of interested people, and the will to accomplish something. Our present shelf of books, if we had spelled it out in all its detail in 1925, would have seemed quite as formidable as the list I have presented today for future publication. The question is, what do we will to do? And the inevitable answer is that we can do what we will to do.

I close by paraphrasing the conclusion of the pamphlet on Planning for the Future that we published some years ago:
We cannot succeed greatly without new forces and continued co-operation.

We cannot succeed greatly unless we conceive our task in large terms, rule out smallness of thinking and vision, co-operate generously and wisely with one another, and remember that the job we are doing is bigger than ourselves. It centers in a great and many-sided saga of hundreds of thousands of people. It is transatlantic in scope. It merges with the larger story of the country and civilization we love and serve.

By co-operation I do not mean a co-operation only of historians and other scholars, important as that is. They could [158] accomplish little if they were not sustained by the members and officers of the Association. Their work could not attain publication unless members and friends matched the gifts of the scholars' talents with gifts of funds to make possible the collecting of historical material and the writing, editing, and publishing of their books.

Their efforts would fail, too, unless they were also sustained by the rank and file of the people who, with a deepening sense of the importance and many-sided interest of our history, will join hands in a common task.

If our records were neglected and lost and destroyed, our writing would be dead and dried bones, not living flesh. Our task would be profitless. With support, co-operation, interest, gifts - with everybody doing his or her part to forward a common cause-is there any reasonable goal we cannot reach and cross? We can make this Association a force that will be felt long after our efforts come to an end-a force for achievement, for good, for permanent values. The founders of the Association were both workers and dreamers. Men like Rølvaag, Gjerset, Prestgard, Larson, Ristad, and Birger Osland had the imagination to see these things when the shelves were empty and the challenges of the Association unmet. Today, with the start of a quarter century, we must look to the future no less imaginatively and courageously than they did at the beginning.

Note

<1> This address, now slightly revised for publication, was delivered at the silver anniversary meeting of the Norwegian-American Historical Association in Northfield, Minnesota, October 6, 1950.

 

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